Arab and Middle East Affairs

Arab and Middle East Affairs

Algeria's national commitment to pan-Arabism and Arab causes throughout the Middle East and North Africa has resulted in an active role in the region. It joined the League of Arab States (Arab League) immediately following national independence in 1962. Since that time, Algeria's historical and ideological commitment to national revolution and self-determination has resulted in a strong affinity for the Palestinians in Israel, one of the Arab League's most compelling causes. Algeria has consistently supported the Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and spurned the idea of diplomatic resolution with Israel. The Algerian government has steadily backed the mainstream faction of the PLO under the leadership of Yasir Arafat--hosting sessions of the PLO's National Council, intervening on its behalf in diplomatic negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, condemning internal divisions, and working toward the reconciliation of competing factions within the organization. Algeria supported Arafat's decision, denounced by Palestinian hard-liners, to sign a peace treaty with Israel in September 1993.

Algeria's energetic efforts on behalf of the PLO and the Palestinian cause have from time to time jeopardized its relations with other Arab nations (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt), many of which host significant Palestinian populations of their own. Despite Algerian indebtedness to Egypt for assistance during the revolutionary period, the Algerian government severed all relations with Egypt in the late 1970s over Egypt's peace treaty with Israel; relations gradually improved only with a change of leadership in both countries. More recently, Egypt's President Husni Mubarak and Algeria's President Chadli Benjedid found each other's moderate policies more palatable than those of their predecessors and jointly worked toward a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Similarly, Algeria incurred difficulties with Iraq over its involvement in the peace talks concluding the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. Persistent calls by Algeria for an end to the conflict that it considered so damaging to the pan-Islamic movement led to a peace proposal that Iraq viewed as overly favorable to Iran. The proposal was alleged to have provoked Iraqi fighters to shoot down an Algerian aircraft carrying prominent Algerian officials involved in the peace talks, including the country's foreign minister.

Algeria shares a cultural identity with the Arab-Islamic nations but is separated by its distance from the rest of the Middle East. The closed nature of the authoritarian regime that governed Algeria for most of its independent history has precluded the development of mass enthusiasm for, or awareness of, external causes and conflicts.

The period of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the subsequent retaliation by the largely Western coalition forces was the first time a significant portion of the Algerian public became mobilized over a foreign policy issue. Arab identification with Iraq drew support from the masses in unprecedented numbers. The overt support for Iraq on the part of the FIS and Ben Bella's Movement for Democracy in Algeria (Mouvement pour la Démocratie en Algérie) and a mass rally in support of Iraq's Saddam Husayn resulted in a fast reversal by the government from its original position condemning the Iraqi aggression. Changing state-society relations--a more active civil society and a more informed public--have meant new foreign policy directions characteristic of a government more responsive to its public. In late 1993, Algeria's foreign policy toward nations of the Middle East, however, had not changed significantly. Its relations with the West, especially its former colonizer, had changed markedly since the immediate post-independence period.

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